The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week. In support of this, World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal to boost global exclusive breastfeeding rates from 38% to 50% by 2025. Latching onto the topic (pun intended), we decided to explore different facets of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is beneficial to both mothers and babies. It is affordable while catering specifically to infants’ nutritional needs for optimal growth. Breastfeeding also promotes weight loss and reduces breast and ovarian cancer incidences in mothers. Due to the presence of active immune components in breast milk, breastfeeding is correlated with reduced mortality and morbidity in infectious diseases, obesity, and other noncommunicable diseases in both developing and developed countries. For the environmentally conscious, formula cans and bottles are saved from landfill, and less energy demand is needed to produce and transport infant formulas.
The WHO guidelines for breastfeeding are as follows:
▪ Breastfeeding should begin during the first hour post giving birth.
▪ Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life whenever needed (avoid using pacifiers).
▪ Introduction of solid foods after six months should only supplement breastfeeding.
▪The recommended duration is to breastfeed until the child is age two.
What exactly is in breast milk?
First and foremost, breast milk is dynamic―its components vary based on storage conditions, maternal, and environmental factors. To understand the composition, we must dive into lactation stages:
▪ Shortly after birth, colostrum (also known as the “first milk”) is produced and the color may be tinted golden yellow. Colostrum is composed of mainly immune boosting components and developmental factors, intended to maximize infant survival in a new world full of germs and challenges.
▪ Several days later, a shift occurs where lactose (a sugar used in the body for energy) levels are increased in breast milk. Biologically, a mother’s mammary glands are working hard to upsurge milk production to meet an infant’s fast growing demands.
▪ After four to six weeks, breast milk composition is considered fully matured. At this point, infants suckle on rich macronutrients (fat, protein, sugars), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), growth factors and immunological factors.
When is the breast option not the best option?
▪ Infants with galactosemia, an inherited condition where they cannot utilize galactose (a component of lactose sugar) for energy. In this case, babies may have trouble gaining weight or appear lethargic. The alternatives include soy-based formula, meat-based formula, and other lactose-free formulas.
▪ Mothers with active and untreated tuberculosis.
▪ Mothers with active and open herpes simplex lesions.
▪ Mothers positive for T-cell lymphotropic virus type I–or II. Type I is associated with leukemia, which can often be fatal.
▪ Mothers exposed to strong radioactive substances, chemotherapeutic agents, or other drugs that might be passed into the breastmilk.
▪ Recommendations for HIV-positive mothers are mixed, as the nutritional benefits may outweigh viral transmission risk in some countries. WHO recommends mothers on antiviral regimens to breastfeed their infants exclusively for at least a year.
What you can do:
▪ Educate yourself and others on current breastfeeding practices and resources. Get familiarized with prenatal education and recognize the effects of infant formula advertising.
▪ Promote and support breastfeeding in diverse environments and circumstances. Workplace support can boost morale and broaden support.
Go celebrate parenthood and the breastfeeding that goes with it!